Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sorry It's Been a While . . . What I've Been Working On

In the crazy world of Standards-Based Grading, I have been struggling for about a year with how to accurately assess students' deeper understandings of the unit goals, that is, without them writing a full 5 paragraph essay. Each unit has 7 themes, and obviously you can't have each student write 7, 5 paragraph essays!

But the clouds have broken, and I just delivered 3.0 Knowledge Checks to all 143 students, scored and assessed in a timely manner. All thanks to a website I recently came across called "Beyond the Bubble."

I've been using their assessments section in class as centers, and then later this week in their 3.0 Knowledge Check. So far, I am pleased with the results.

Beyond the Bubble has also started a collection of World History Lessons too. Check it out! Be inspired to use the primary sources in your own classroom!

Monday, December 31, 2012

So Long 2012

Whoever thought December could be the busiest month of the school year? Isn't that reserved for August, or maybe May? I don't know what happened to the days since Thanksgiving, but now I am staring down a new year and a new work week after a much needed break.

As I have gotten a chance to catch up on some blogs and entertainment reading over break, one thing I want to do better (besides continue unit to implement the Common Core by integrating primary sources in my geography, world history, and US history classes) is to do a better job of sharing my reading life with my students.

I have recently read, "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller, and as fate would have it, follow a blogger who just saw this author at a conference. She was inspired, wrote, and now that I have read her blog, I am inspired too.

Happy reading in 2013!

Monday, December 10, 2012

and Your Homework Tonight Is . . .

To study.


The homework I assign the kids day to day is to study. Study vocabulary terms, people, map locations, etc; that 2.0 level knowledge that requires recall and memorization.

Higher level activities, such as analyzing sources, writing essential questions, creating a project; these type of activities we do together in class.

You can't help a student if you don't know what they are struggling with. I don't want kids to struggle at home. If you have some parents that want to help their kids with homework, skill and drill is easy for both students and parents. Leave the higher level skills for the classroom, with the person (hopefully the teacher) who has been trained in helping kids learn and deepen their knowledge and understandings.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Fieldtrip as Frontloading

Last week I began a new unit with the 8th graders, "A Nation Divided." This unit covers the basics of the abolition movement, Civil War, and Reconstruction in the United States. Living in Illinois has also allowed me great access to the incredible history in the state capital, Springfield.

Every year, towards the end of the unit, I take the kids to Springfield to visit the many sites, the Capitol building, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln Home, the Lincoln Tmb, and of course, Springfield's incredible Lincoln Museum (seriously, if you live anywhere near Springfield, IL it is totally worth your time and effort to check it out). This year, however, I moved the trip to the beginning of the unit, and it has made a world of difference (yes, already!)

A great example of the difference moving the fieldtrip has made was shown in today's class. Today the kids were to annotate a Linclon speech/writing and analyze it as a primary source. The kids were split into 4 groups by reading ability, one for each speech/writing (House Divided Speech, Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address, and 2nd Inaugural Address). After annotating and analyzing, they moved into Jigsaw groups to teach their classmates about the speech they annotated and analyzed.

I was amazed to see them pull background knowledge from our field trip. It made my teacher heart melt when I heard phrases like, "Do you remember at the museum . . .," "No, the docent said that . . ."

Now, I did prompt their thinking at all the places we visited. Before we left we set up their notebooks with specific questions and artifacts to analyze at each location we visited, but like good investigators, the kids took the finding of information very seriously.

So, lesson learned; use a fieldtrip as a frontloading activity!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Revelation

Well, today was a Performance Task presentation day for the 7th graders. Sometimes in my teaching practice, I stumble across an answer as an unintended result, and today was one of those days.

Part of the requirement for the Performance Task was that their final product could teach without them being physically present in the room (note: their audience was next year's 7th grade class).

As such, instead of our normal, get up in front of the class and give a presentation, we did something completely different. Before class I made up a sheet that allowed the students to self-evaluate on the criteria of the Performance Task (there were 6 criterion). This took about 10 minutes. Then I had them flip the sheet over which had another copy of the set of criterion. The students then visited 6 other students presentations watched/listened/read/etc. their information regarding the topic, and evaluated the student on 1 of the 6 criterion. They just decided if Yes they had the criterion, or No they didn't and left a comment of how the student met or did not meet the criterion.

After getting some verbal feedback from the kids, they loved seeing Performance Tasks in this way! Of course, this got me to thinking; how could I make every Performance Task presentation day more interactive?

Here is my initial thought; let me know if you have other ideas:

On PT presentation day, I could put the kids into groups, say 5-6 students. Each student in that group could be responsible for evaluating one of the criterion of the Performance Task. Perhaps with a highlighter, he/she could highlight all the items presented/shown by the presenting student. Each of the students in that group could present to each other, with several presentations occuring simultaneously. Since each student is required to post their Performance Task on their website, even without the use of a SmartBoard, all the members of the group could follow along.

My next Performance Task presentations are about a month away, so I will have some time to chew on this a bit; but I was pleased with the active engagement in the Performance Task presentations verses the passivity I normally see if we spend 60 minutes in class, 1 student at a time, presenting Performance Task. Oh, and additional bonus, instead of running out of time for everyone to present, all students would have time to present. Hmmm....the benefits just keep coming....

Any thoughts?